The HP Specter x360 shows that HP does not like to sit still. While some companies show up to the dance with the same outfit over and over again (looking at you, MacBook Air 13 and Dell XPS 13), HP has revamped its premium 2-in-1 version over and over again, no less than three times. in the last two years, in fact.
In this last and third version of the Specter x360 13t, HP not only got into a Core i7 quad-core eighth generation and called it an update. It also gives the whole laptop an important update, one that addresses almost all the subtleties we've had with previous versions. This should give the MacBook Air 13 and the Dell XPS 13 one more reason to worry.
A short history
The evolution of Specter x360 to this point has been complex. The first version of the Specter x360 was beautifully built with CNC aluminum, but it worked with a heavy side. Next to the tiny XPS 13, it looked giant.
The second generation of HP was put on a diet. In fact, the Specter x360 13t was so good that it convinced some of us that it no longer made sense in Microsoft's Surface Pro line. We discovered that with Surface and its clones, we use it in tablet mode maybe five percent of the time. For that little-used tablet mode, we renounce lapability a lot. The Specter x360 13t did not demand such a sacrifice.
The HP Specter x360 may already be our favorite convertible, but HP has still managed to improve both inside and out. The original facial recognition of the Specter x360 13t was good, but we always found that Microsoft's Surface Book implementation was slightly faster. In this new third generation, Windows Hello support seems to have reached the Surface Book.
For the paranoid types who like to cover the camera, HP now includes a fingerprint reader on the side. Do not worry, this is not the old swiper style reader, it works much better and allows you to easily unlock the laptop.
Prices, features and specifications
HP offers many options for the Specter x360, including 1080p to 4K screens, and even a privacy screen option. RAM varies from 8GB to 16GB, and SSD options range from 256GB to 1TB. Our particular model features a Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a touch panel / 1080P pen and a 2565GB SSD for $ 1,099. That is an extremely competitive price for the hardware included. Read on to get a detailed summary of the configuration and its highlights.
CPU: Intel 8th-gen quad-core Core i7-8550U. This is Intel's latest chip technology, which offers a dramatic increase in performance on multi-threaded workloads. HP also sells a version of the Specter x360 with the 8th-gen Core i5 CPU, and does not lose much in performance. To save a little on the cost, consider that.
RAM: 8 GB of LPDDR3 / 2133. While 16 GB would be good, for 90 percent of us, 8 GB is fine.
Storage: 256 GB Samsung PM961 NVMe SSD. In today's world, 256GB of storage is a bit tight, we would prefer 512GB, or even the 1TB version that HP offers. However, assuming you do not load Specter x360 with every image and video in your world, 256 GB is enough.
Display: IPS 1920x1080 touch screen with active pencil support. In general, we were pleased with the IPS touch screen and its Corning Gorilla glass layer. With the battery, however, we noticed that the brightness was reduced to approximately 255 nits maximum, while in the CA it was able to reach 295 nits.
Pencil: our review unit came with HP Tilt Pen based on N-trig. It has two ingenious characteristics. First: no more batteries. Like most users, you only discover that your pen is dead when you need it most. And, no, even the members of Radio Shack Battery Club will not have an AAAA cell around. The HP Active pen opens to reveal a hidden USB-C port for charging.
The pen also supports a presentation mode that allows you to use it to scroll down and control the cursor, or flip through a PowerPoint by moving the pen in the air.
Keyboard and touchpad: the keyboard and touchpad have not changed much of what we can say. Generally, we like big keys and long trips. One thing we have never gotten used to is the location of the home buttons, page up, page down, and down at the far right. Maybe we're careless guys, but we play those keys wrongly sometimes while typing at full speed.
The trackpad of great aspect ratio (of Synaptics is also something we have had problems with in the past.) It is a good trackpad, but the size meant that we would have to raise the rejection of the palm to avoid wandering movements of the cursor.
Ports: new this year is a slot for MicroSD cards. It gets two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support USB-PD charging, as well as (thank you!) An A-type USB port. No matter what you think of a PC manufacturer, we should all take a moment to thank anybody out loud that includes at least one Type A port in ultraportable laptops.
If you are wondering if you can run external graphics on Thunderbolt 3 ports, you can do so. HP has really led the way in supporting external graphics through Thunderbolt 3 ports. In fact, the company even offers a version of the Specter x360 with an external graphics cabinet.
Dimensions: The latest Spectre x360 13t measures in at 12 x 8.6 x 0.53 inches. Amazingly the weight of the Spectre x360 13t is lighter than before. Our postage scale put the Spectre at 2 pounds, 11.7 ounces. That’s an ounce or so lighter than the previous model. The new model includes a more powerful 65-watt USB-PD/C power brick, which takes the total package up to 3 pounds, 4.7 ounces.
The big story with the Spectre x360 13t is the upgrade in performance by moving from a 7th-gen Core i7 to an 8th-gen Core i7. The question with any super-thin convertible, though, is whether it’ll throw performance overboard when things get hot.
Our first test was Maxon’s Cinebench R15. It’s a near-pure CPU test that measures how fast a computer can render a 3D image. While 3D rendering isn’t what most would ever do on an ultraportable, it is a good way measure performance.
We first look at the load spread among all of the CPU cores available. Overall performance is quite good, although the convertible nature and its thinner profile put it behind Dell’s XPS 13. That’s no surprise: Laptops that can be converted to tablets typically must run cooler. The Spectre x360 13t does ace the even thinner Spectre 13, though.
The important comparison is to the earlier 7th-gen Core i7 XPS 13 and Spectre x360 laptops. There we see the 8th-gen laptops prevail in multi-threaded performance.
The vast majority of the world doesn’t run on multi-threaded code, though, so for our second text we set Cinebench R15 to render the image using a single core. The results put the XPS 13 and the Spectre x360 13t dead even, but the results also tell us that for the most part, you won’t be able to feel much of a difference between a 7th-generation Core i7 and a 8th-gen Core i7 in single-threaded tasks.
Don’t believe us? We also ran PCMark 8 Work Conventional, which, simulates typical office tasks. It reinforces what we saw with Cinebench R15 in single-threaded tasks. For the most part, a typical person doing a typical thing won’t see a difference.
Still, there is an argument for more cores if you do things that need it. Our last CPU test uses Handbrake 0.9.9 to encode a 30GB 1080P MKV file using the default Android Tablet preset. This test favors more cores, and we see the Spectre x360 13t leave its predecessor miles behind. Basically, if you do intend to do heavier tasks such as video editing, encoding and advanced photo editing (using multi-threaded apps), the 8th-gen Spectre x360 13t doesn’t disappoint.
If you’re wondering why the Dell XPS 13 is in front, it’s due to the laptop-only design, the thicker body and possibly better cooling. It’s not the Spectre x360 13t’s fault—there is a price to be paid for laptop that converts into a tablet.
There’s not much to talk about in graphics, as most of these laptops use the same or very similar graphics chips inside. The laptop-only Dell enjoys a minor lead, but if you want “real” gaming, we recommend you pick up a Thunderbolt 3 graphics cabinet and go to town.
Our last result is from the most important one to most: battery life. To measure that, we loop a 4K video using Window’s built-in video player (it’s the best one for battery life.) This is done with Airplane mode enabled on the laptop and its display brightness set at about 250 to 260 nits, the brightness you’d need in a typical office or home. We also plug in ear buds with the volume set to a midrange level.
The results speak well for the HP Spectre x360 13t, with an excess of 12 hours of video playback. Remember: this is a video run down test. Running intensive tests, using a higher brightness or even browsing means your battery life will vary (more on this topic here.) Still, this is a good showing for the Spectre x360.
To really understand HP’s take on the Spectre x360 13t, you have to look at the little things. For example, the last iteration featured a side-mounted flush power button that often was difficult to find and press. This version’s button features a small dimple that makes it easy to locate by touch. A lot of companies might let those little things just roll on for another year or two, but not HP.
To think that since its introduction in 2015, HP has introduced no fewer than three major updates to the Spectre x360 13t (including four different CPU choices) while Apple and Dell have done business as usual says something.
It’s also easy to see why the Spectre x360 13t has been and will likely continue to be our favorite convertible. It is simply everything we liked about the previous one, with a whole lot more performance.